Burial Clothing: How to Properly Clothe the Dead

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Have you ever loved an outfit so much that you jokingly commented that you wanted to be buried in it? If so, make sure your loved ones know. At some point, they may be the ones to pick out your final outfit. And if your husband picked out an ugly sweater for you as a Christmas present or your wife gave you an ugly tie for your birthday, you may not want to leave this decision up to them.

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Picking out the burial clothes for a loved one is a unique challenge. How do you properly clothe the dead? Does it matter if your loved one chose cremation or burial? Does the embalming process make it difficult for the funeral director to get particular articles of clothing on your loved one’s body? What if the deceased requested a natural burial? Should the clothes be made of biodegradable materials?

Many questions surface when faced with the task of dressing a loved one in his or her final outfit. Here are some things to think about as you choose your loved one’s clothes. 

Step 1: Find Out Their Final Wishes 

You may not have to worry about picking a final outfit if your loved one has chosen to be cremated. People who are cremated usually wear the clothing that they died in — which could be anything from a hospital gown to everyday clothes.

You may decide to first have an open-casket viewing for friends and family before your loved is cremated. If that’s the case, you will need to pick out clothing. You may dress your loved one in any outfit for the viewing but some articles may need to be removed before the body is cremated. 

Specific types of materials cannot be cremated due to environmental concerns. Metal, leather, and rubber will be removed from the deceased before cremation takes place. In other words, you might not be able to have your dad cremated in his favorite motorcycle jacket and boots. 

Be sure to scrutinize your clothing choices if your loved one wanted a completely green burial. First, find clothing made from untreated natural fabrics. Make sure there aren’t any notions on the clothing — including plastics or metal. Watch out for buttons, zippers, elastic waistbands, linings, and thread made from synthetic materials. These items won’t decompose with the body.

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Step 2: See if the Deceased Set an Outfit Aside

Your loved one might have already picked out a burial outfit if he or she was elderly or sick. This is a common practice when people face their own mortality. 

Check for an outfit that may have been set aside for such a purpose. Perhaps your father recently had a suit dry cleaned. Maybe your mom chose a dress and hung it all by itself in the closet. 

Your loved one may have known that discussing burial outfits would distress you, so he or she avoided the conversation. Check for notes pinned to clothing or boxes under the bed. The burial clothes may have already been chosen for you.

Step 3: Consider Your Loved One’s Age

Elderly people tend to dress more formally compared to younger people. (Take a look at how older people dress for travel and religious services compared to younger folks.) If your elderly loved one recently passed, know that he or she would have probably expected to be buried in formal attire — and his or her peers will expect it as well.

Younger people who know they will die more often pick out less formal attire that reflects their personality and interests. In the past, you never would have seen a person laid to rest in anything but their Sunday best, but now it’s common to see the deceased wearing Batman T-shirts and Blackhawk jerseys.

Friends and family members may feel comforted knowing that their loved one was buried (or entombed, in the case of an above-ground burial) in a beloved article of clothing.

Step 4: Understand What Fits

Sometimes people who are dying have been ill for a long time. As a result of their illness, they may have gained or lost a lot of weight. 

You may not be emotionally able to purchase a new final outfit for your loved one. After all, who feels like shopping when they are grieving? If this is the case, you have several options.

First, talk with the funeral home director to see if the chosen outfit can be manipulated to fit your loved one. Since the back of the clothing won’t be seen, the dresser may be able to cut slits on the back of the garment or gather up the extra material.

Also, talk with the funeral home director about other clothing burial options. Several companies make clothing specifically for deceased people. These outfits are designed to be attractive when worn lying down. They have drawstrings and long slits for easy dressing. They also come in a variety of styles and colors.

Friends, family members or other people who care often ask how they can assist you during your difficult time. Most of the time, your friends and extended family members really want a task to complete to show that they care. You may ask one of these individuals to shop for burial garments for your loved one. Ask them to text photos of choices so you have some say in the matter.

Step 5: Know Religious or Cultural Requirements

The deceased’s religion may play a part in how they are dressed for eternal rest. Orthodox Jews are dressed in burial shrouds. This outfit, which the funeral home usually provides, includes a head covering, shirt, pants, coat, and belt. Some may also be buried in a prayer shawl with one of the four tassels removed. Finally, the body is wrapped in a burial shroud.

Those practicing Islam are also dressed in a shroud before burial. The shrouding process involves three white sheets. After the body is placed in a specific position, the layers are individually wrapped around the body. 

First, the sheet on the right side goes over and then the left until all three sheets are used. A rope is tied around the sheets above the head and below the feet. The sheets are also secured with a rope around the middle.

Step 6: Understand the Condition of the Body

If your loved one passed away after a recent surgery or accident, you might need to take special considerations when picking out funeral clothes for the deceased. Perhaps clothing with a higher neckline or long sleeves may help hide any scarring of the body. 

If you are having an open casket, you’ll want to do your best to make sure your loved one is presented well for the other mourners. 

Step 7: Plan to Buy Accessories and Undergarments

Funeral home directors say that if the family provides undergarments or shoes for the deceased, they use them when preparing the body. If undergarments or shoes are not provided, that is fine, too. These decisions are entirely your personal preference, and there is certainly no right or wrong answer.

Step 8: Figure Out Makeup and Hair

As if it wasn’t difficult enough to pick out burial dresses and suits, you also have to think about your loved one’s style as well. Since the person preparing the body probably didn’t know your family member, make sure you provide a photo that shows his or her hair and makeup preferences. 

People receive solace when their deceased loved ones looked the way they did in life.

Make sure you provide glasses or a hairpiece to the funeral home if it incorporates your loved one’s style. Maybe your family member died without his or her preferred hair color. Ask the funeral director if you can provide the appropriate hair dye for your loved one.

Step 9: Engage with Other Family Members and Friends

When you lose someone, you may have to try to figure out what the deceased would have wanted. These answers are often obvious to everyone involved — sometimes family members and those close to the dead may have different opinions. Engage in a calm discussion so everyone can get on the same page about what your mutual loved one would have wanted.

Choosing the Right Outfit

Organizing a funeral is undoubtedly a daunting task. There are so many decisions to be made. Should you hold a simple graveside burial service? What music best reflects your loved one’s life? 

The decision about what burial clothing to use may seem difficult, but remember to use the time following the death of a loved one to share memories with others. It’s a time to laugh — and cry. Don’t let the process of picking out burial clothing overwhelm you.

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